Geordie Lotto Winner To Keep Fighting The Taliban
18 Sep 2006
One of Canada's latest lottery jackpot winners tiptoed into an abandoned Taliban stronghold yesterday to blow up a booby trap insurgents left behind.
Sgt. Neil Coates may be $625,000 richer thanks to a Super 7 lottery win, but he can't buy his way out of the army or the duty he feels to fallen friends and the comrades who remain.
"My first reaction was, `Get the hell out of here,'" Coates, 44, told The Canadian Press at the front lines of the NATO operation to clear insurgents from this Taliban stronghold.
"But I talked to my wife about it, and this is what I came here to do, I trained a whole year for this. I owe it to these guys to see it through."
Coates, a veteran combat engineer, admits the strange collision of fates has left him a bit bewildered - a dangerous state for a man in charge of a team of explosives and demolition experts.
"It's difficult to keep focused on what you're doing," Coates said while waiting to clear bombs and weapons from the next village.
"But with my job, lives depend on staying focussed. When you get some downtime, you can sit back and think about what we will do with all the money."
Coates learned about the win from his wife Cheryl when he received an urgent message to call home yesterday. Her elation made it clear no bad news would be delivered for a change. The family split a $5 million prize among eight lottery partners.
Coates has lost several friends among the recent Canadian deaths in Afghanistan.
"It was a bad stretch for three or four days, and one reason it's so overwhelming is one minute you're so depressed and the next minute one of the best things that could ever happen to a person happens to you," he explained. "But I think it's been a bit of a morale boost for everybody."
Engineers who work with Coates have started jokingly charging him $10 for a bottle of water. Someone has drawn a dollar sign on his helmet.
"It really couldn't have happened to a better guy," said Master Cpl. Dwayne Orvis of Shelburne, Ont.
Coates had talked to the army about leaving early from Afghanistan before deciding to stick out his tour. "I'd feel pretty badly leaving the section," he said.
A native of Newcastle, England, Coates served in the British army for 13 years before moving and joining the Canadian army in 1993.
Coates says his wife will pay off the car and some other bills and bank the rest until they get a chance to discuss the next plan.
He may look for a new line of work, but in-depth planning will have to wait for his December leave or return home in February. "But it will be nice to be debt free for a while," he said.